Saturday Book Review: MICRO by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

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The “Waipaka Arboretum”

Even if it is well below the standard of Crichton’s solo novels, MICRO is a competent thriller that has some great moments.  Like Jurassic Park, the concept is simple: a group of humans have to make it across a lush, hostile landscape filled with monsters, and time is running out.  In this case the monsters are not extinct dinosaurs but the living insects and other small creatures that populate a small nature preserve in Hawaii (based on the Lyon Arboretum in Oahu’s Manoa valley, where I took the photo attached to this post).  Through a cutting-edge industrial process gone wrong, the humans in the book are shrunk down to half an inch in size, and this fuels Crichton’s trademark combination of fear and wonder.  When relatively enlarged to the size of a house, a wolf spider can be just as fearsome and fascinating as Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Seriously, how many posts can I write about giant spiders!?)

MICRO has many of the great Crichton trademarks.  There is the slightly preachy, sensationalist forward that starts like a newspaper editorial and ends as a tacit invitation to believe the impossible.  There is the evil industrialist using powerful scientific processes for his own selfish ends.  There is the stand-in for beliefs Crichton disagrees with who suffers horribly, and the long passages of fascinating scientific factoids inserted into the dialogue.

My favorite Crichton trademark is the feeling that the story is like a dream vacation gone horribly, wonderfully wrong.  Crichton’s work has had this element all the way back to his pseudonymous Jong Lange thrillers and 1970s film and TV work, and it’s one of the things that makes his stories so effective.  It activates the wish fulfillment part of the brain, which ushers you into the world of the impossible more quickly and efficiently.  It also makes Crichton’s books somehow more at home in the airports, beaches, and resorts where I, like millions of other readers, were so fond of reading them.

It’s a shame that Crichton wasn’t able to finish the book himself.  Preston, who took over the project after Crichton’s death, fills in the gaps without taking too many missteps.  The concept is so strong that it carries the book in the end, but in Crichton’s hands alone MICRO could’ve been perfectly crafted pop entertainment.  Spielberg has bought the rights and in his hands the strengths of the story might shine through more clearly.  We can hope, because this is the last of Crichton we’re ever going to get.

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